Department of Health and Family Services
Division of Children and Family Services
           MEMO SERIES CFS 98-12
           October 6, 1998

               TERMINATION OF
               PARENTAL RIGHTS

To: Area Administrators/Assistant Area Administrators
Bureau Directors
County Departments of Community Program Directors
County Departments of Human Services Directors
County Departments of Social Services Directors
From: Susan N. Dreyfus

 Document Summary

County social and human service departments shall implement the requirements for filing a petition for termination of parental rights established by state and federal law and document in each case record that appropriate actions have been taken. The agency shall maintain separate documentation identifying children in the transition group and the timely completion of reviews on these cases.

The federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 requires prompt actions to provide permanency for children in out-of-home care. Wisconsin legislation has added those requirements into state statute.

A county human or social service department must file a petition for termination of parental rights (TPR), or join in support of a TPR petition, in the following circumstances:

  1. When a child has been placed outside of his or her home as described in s. 48.365(1) for 15 of the most recent 22 months, or

  2. If a court has determined a child to be an abandoned infant under provisions outlined in s. 48.417(1)(b), or

  3. When a court has determined that a parent has committed one of the serious crimes outlined in s. 48.417(1)(c) or (d).

Exceptions to filing the petition for TPR are allowed when it is determined and documented that one of the following exists:

Exception A: The child is being cared for by a relative of the child.

Exception B: The child’s permanency plan indicates that termination of parental rights to the child is not in the best interests of the child.

Exception C: The agency primarily responsible for providing services to the child and the family under court order, if required under s. 48.355(2)(b) 6, Wis. Stats., to make reasonable efforts to make it possible for the child to return safely to his or her home, has not provided to the family of the child, consistent with the time period of the child’s permanency plan, the services necessary for the safe return of the child to his or her home.

Some time is allowed for transition with children who have been in care for at least 15 of the prior 22 months on November 17, 1997. For these children covered by the transition period, a review of the appropriateness of a TPR shall occur for at least 33% of the cases in care for at least 15 of the prior 22 months on November 17, 1997 by July 1, 1999, for 67% of the cases by January 1, 2000 and for all of these cases by July 1, 2000. Children with a plan of adoption and those who have been in care the longest must be reviewed first.

Each county social or human service agency must document the completion of these reviews in individual case records and maintain documentation of the list of cases reviewed for each of the three transition periods.

For a child who is not in the transition group, the county social or human service department must assure that the petition for termination of parental rights is filed or an allowable exception in items A – C above is documented in the case record promptly when the circumstance occurs. By March 31, 1999, the TPR provision must be applied to each child who reached one of the three circumstances above after November 17, 1997.

To assist agencies in completing these requirements, this memo includes:

  • Definitions.

  • Recommendations for process.

  • A report from the Human Services Reporting System identifying children reported in care for at least 15 of the prior 22 months, as of December 31, 1997.

  • A sample format for the review.

  • A list of potential compelling reasons when TPR may not be in the best interest of the child.


"15 of the past 22 months" The starting date for counting the 15 months is the date on which the court first found that the child has been subjected to abuse or neglect or on the date that is 60 days after the date on which the child was removed from his or her home, whichever is earlier.

"Relative" A relative means a parent, grandparent, stepparent, brother, sister, first cousin, nephew, niece, uncle or aunt. This relationship shall be by blood, marriage or adoption. This definition of relative is found at s. 48.02 (15), Wis. Stats., and is narrower that the definition used for the kinship care program.

"Review" The review considers all available information about the child, the child’s family and services which have been provided to the child and child’s family and determines appropriate circumstances under which a petition to terminate parental rights will be sought. The review may be combined with a permanency planning (administrative or court) review or the results of this review can be incorporated in the permanency plan review.

Recommendations for complying with the Transition Group Requirements:

  • Analyze the HSRS list to determine the completeness and accuracy of the permanency goal and length of time in care for each child.

  • Eliminate from the list all cases where the child has been declared abandoned or the parent has been convicted of one of the serious crimes outlined in s. 48.417(1)(c) or (d). These must be addressed immediately.

  • Eliminate from the list any children who already had a TPR prior to November 17, 1998, such as a child in sustaining care.

  • Add any additional children to the list who were not identified by HSRS based on the length of time in care, such as a child who has had more than one episode of care in the 22 months prior to November 17, 1997 and the time in out-of-home care totals 15 months or longer.

  • Determine the total number of cases; multiply that number by 0.33 and round any decimal point to the next largest number to determine the minimum number of cases from the transition group to review by July 1, 1999.

  • Multiply the total number of cases by 0.67 and round any decimal point to the next largest number. Review at least this number of children from the transition group by January 1, 2000.

  • Complete reviews on all remaining children from the transition period by July 1, 2000.

  • First complete reviews on any child with a plan of adoption and then complete the reviews for the children with the longest time in care.

  • In the transition period cases, potential outcomes of a review include a finding that a TPR petition has already been filed or that the child was no longer in out-of-home care prior to the review. This outcome, as with other review outcomes, should be documented for any future state or federal monitoring and is counted as part of your completed reviews.

  • Decide if it will be helpful to review, at the same time, cases where the children share certain characteristics, such as children with severe physical disabilities or children in residential treatment. The review group can include additional reviewers with related expertise. A focus on the special characteristics of children may not override the need to complete reviews first for children with a plan of adoption and those in care for the greatest length of time.

  • If the agency lacks sufficient legal services to promptly file all the petitions for termination of parental rights, it may be helpful to include the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) for the child in the review process, the GAL may file the petition and the agency may join in that action.

Recommendations for Complying with Ongoing Requirements

  • Unless the agency has implemented standards for petitioning for a termination of parental rights identical to or more complete than the federal requirements, you may find that your agency has a number of children for whom petitions should have been filed since November 17, 1997.

  • The ongoing cases includes any child who meets the 15 of the prior 22 months criteria in item 1 above after November 17, 1997 and all children in foster care who fall under the circumstances of items 2 or 3 above. The goal of permanency for children requires prompt action to address these situations.

  • We recommend either filing the petition for TPR or documenting an exception for the existing ongoing cases no later than December 1998, ahead of the federally mandated deadline of March 31, 1999. This will allow your agency to address new situations as they arise while completing the transition cases within the timelines set by statute. The outcome will be more prompt permanency for children, fewer children in out-of-home care and the opportunity to focus resources on family preservation and safety concerns.

The Department is working with licensed adoption agencies in Wisconsin to arrange additional adoption services for the increasing number of children likely to become available for adoption. DHFS adoption staff statewide are willing to consult with county social and human service staff about the adoptability of any child. Likewise, the State Adoption Exchange continues to be available at 1-800-762-8063 to help photo-list a child when a petition for TPR has been filed and the child needs an adoptive placement or if the likelihood of adoption must be determined.

Thank you for implementing these reviews to comply with federal requirements and to assure prompt actions to provide a safe and permanent family for children in out-of-home care.

Out-of-Home Care Specialist
1 West Wilson Street
P. O. Box 8916
Madison, WI 53708-8916
(608) 261-8084
Karen Oghalai
Adoption Services Planner
1 West Wilson Street
P. O. Box 8916
Madison, WI 53708-8916
(608) 266-0690


c Adoption Professionals
Bureau of Programs and Policies Adoption Unit Supervisors
County Departments of Developmental Disabilities
     Services Directors
Direct Services Supervisors
Foster Care Coordinators
Licensed Child Placing Agency Directors
Licensing Chiefs
Section Chiefs/Managers
State Adoption Exchange
Tribal Chairpersons/Human Services Facilitators

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